A cough is your body's way of responding when something irritates your throat or airways. An irritant stimulates nerves that send a message to your brain. The brain then tells muscles in your chest and abdomen to push air out of your lungs to force out the irritant.
An occasional cough is normal and healthy. A cough that persists for several weeks or one that brings up discolored or bloody mucus may indicate a condition that needs medical attention.
At times, coughing can be very forceful — the velocity of air from a vigorous cough can approach 500 miles an hour. Prolonged, vigorous coughing is exhausting and can cause sleeplessness, headaches, urinary incontinence and even broken ribs.
While an occasional cough is normal, a cough that persists may be a sign of a medical problem.
A cough is considered "acute" if it lasts less than three weeks. It is considered "chronic" if it lasts longer than eight weeks (four weeks in children).
Some causes of coughs include:
Call your doctor if your cough doesn't go away after several weeks or if you or your child is:
Seek emergency care if you or your child is:
Cough medicines usually are used only when the cause of the cough is unknown and the cough causes a lot of discomfort. If you use cough medicine, be sure to follow the dosing instructions.
Don't give children under age 4 over-the-counter cough medicine without first checking with your child's doctor.
To ease your cough, try these tips: